June 15, 2019 Madonna – Madame X (Album Review)
How does one effectively summarize the career of the Queen of Pop? A multi-Grammy Award-winning artist, Golden Globe-winning actress, Guinness World Record holder and much more, she is a woman who truly requires no introduction. Her 1983 self-titled album kicked off a whirlwind career that has seen this exceptional talent delivering 13 albums over the past nearly four decades. From 1986’s Like A Virgin to 1998’s Ray of Light, 2005’s Confessions on a Dance Floor to 2015’s Rebel Heart, there has been no stopping the best-selling female solo artist of all-time, Madonna.
An icon who is forever pushing boundaries, the Material Girl delivered her highly-anticipated 14th studio album, Madame X, on June 14, 2019 via Maverick Records, Live Nation, and Interscope Records. For this, she collaborated with longtime producer Mirwais, as well as with producers Mike Dean, Diplo, and more. A 15-song collection that is heavily influenced by living in Lisbon, Portugal over the past few years, Madame X celebrates Madonna’s career-long affair with Latin music and culture coupled with other global influences.
Likely inspired by the Columbian city of the same name, album opener “Medellín” sees Madonna traveling back in time for a delicately punctuated journey that features Columbian Singer-Songwriter and Rapper Maluma in a sensually-paced duet. Perfect for getting your cha-cha on but with some Reggaetón dusted across its landscape, the track is an open invitation to explore Columbia and her lavish culture.
Second track “Dark Ballet” is an interesting, highly experimental moment for the Pop diva. Intermingling Tchaikovsky’s “Dance of the Reed-Flutes” (from the well-loved The Nutcracker) with pieces of Joan of Arc’s story, and an underlying commentary on fame, the song seems to sarcastically exclaim, “It’s a beautiful life!” Is it a cohesive experience? No, not really. But this is Madonna and the woman is going to do whatever she wants—and you’re going to lap it up!
“God Control” explores the hot button issue of gun control, and features the Tiffin Children’s Chorus. Initially, sonically, the track begins as an intensely emotional piece featuring the choir, but, plot twist, it flips to a Disco-dusted, truly bizarre dance-a-thon that sees Madonna practicing her ASMR in a bid to wake America up so we can face the truth.
Initially debuting in Israel in May, the Diplo-produced “Future,” an anthem of hope for the future, sees Madonna featuring Rapper-Singer-Songwriter Quavo. Spreading its message of love, light, and woke-ness, it’s a fairly straight-forward Reggae and Dancehall-dusted number that will have your hips swaying with its universal message. Meanwhile, there’s a festive togetherness in “Batuka,” which features the wonderfully peaceful voices of the Batucadeiras of Cabo Verde. An acknowledgement that there are long days and struggles ahead, the song goes for unity in the face of turmoil with its beautifully-authored multi-cultural layerings.
“Killers Who Are Partying” injects a Portuguese influence (and language) as it explores our diva’s sympathies for minorities and the downtrodden around our wild world. Next, at its core, “Crave” is a guitar and vocal ballad that features Rapper-Singer-Songwriter Swae Lee and the Queen confessing to the dangers of lustful infatuations. It’s perfect little expression of summertime yearnings continues into the bop of “Crazy,” where Madonna fluently blends more Portuguese into the lyrical mix.
Being unique, having a voice, achieving your dreams, but helping to promote peace—it’s all at the core of “Come Alive,” a gentle nudge to remind listeners to not just be alive but to live, and to do it loud and with much love. Thematically, this fits with “Extreme Occident,” the story of a world-traveler from the Midwest told as a piano and vocal ballad that explores the circle of life.
Amping it back up, the multi-talented Brazilian Singer Anitta leads Madonna in her version of the hugely-popular Portuguese hit “Faz Gostoso,” originally performed by Blaya, before Maluma returns for the hip-shaker “Bitch I’m Loca,” a reggae-dusted stomp that is partially sung in Spanish.
A sonic highlight of the disc, we see Madonna return to the delicious House influences of her Erotica era with “I Don’t Search I Find,” a fairly straightforward track, lyrically speaking. In turn, this leads to another special moment, “Looking for Mercy,” coupling some intense lyrical searching with a delicate bass beat as the Queen’s vocals absolutely soar.
Another sociopolitical commentary, the powerful “I Rise” opens with a soundbite of student Emma Gonzalez’s moving anti-gun speech in the wake of the 2018 Parkland, Florida school shooting. A beautiful call to rise above the violence, to call for gun control in America, the track ends the collection on a truly impactful note. In fact, it would be nearly impossible to not support the Queen’s multicultural, “woke” approach to Pop that promotes universality and never shirks from controversial topics—but how she weaves that tapestry is certainly up for debate.
To be honest, the experimental nature of Madame X is likely to heavily polarize listeners. Some will see Madonna’s risk-taking as a brilliant reminder that her career will never grow stale, while others will struggle to digest her multilingual, somewhat schizophrenic approach to songwriting. This is an album without limits, a cross-cultural blend that contains fairly obvious, largely banal Pop tracks (“Crave,” “Crazy”), intelligent and worldly explorations (“I Rise,” “Batuka,”) and everything in between. The Queen of Pop certainly takes chances on the disc, and for that the woman should be applauded. However, the end result is just a little too loca to feel entirely cohesive and, for this, it far overstays its welcome at fifteen (eighteen in some editions!) tracks.
The open-minded, die-hard Madonna fan that loves all languages and cultures is likely to at least try to embrace the bulk of Madame X, though the casual listener is far more likely to find our Material Girl’s latest a little too scattered. Whatever the case, the collection is a solid representation of where the Queen of Pop is at right now: embracing her worldliness, taking chances, and being the iconic diva that she is! Appreciative of the Queen, Cryptic Rock give Madonna’s Madame X 3.5 of 5 stars.